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News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Cats have left plenty of historical pawprints in Southern California

by Lori Galarreta | Take Two®

A mural of Room 8 at Elysian Heights Elementary School. KPCC/Lori Galarreta

On the corner of Baxter and Echo Park Avenue, a sidewalk runs along the edge of Elysian Heights Elementary school in Echo Park. It spans almost an entire block, but if you look closely, you'll see messages of love carved into the asphalt.

Nearly 60 years ago, students left behind written tributes to one of the school's most beloved figures of all time: a domestic short hair cat. His name was Room 8.

“This sidewalk, isn't just a sidewalk,” said Paul Koudanaris, a historian who specializes in visual culture and the history of felines. “It's a pathway through 16 years of love and devotion.”

Loving message for Room 8. It reads, "Without a name, to Room 8 he came, to give our school the greatest fame."
Loving message for Room 8. It reads, "Without a name, to Room 8 he came, to give our school the greatest fame." KPCC/Lori Galarreta

Koudanaris will be presenting a lecture about Southern California's elaborate cat history at CatCon in Pasadena this weekend, where one can be immersed in all things feline and learn about a variety of notable cats, including Room 8.

The path of Room 8 first took him to the school in 1952, Koudanaris said.

"Just snuck into a room while the kids were out at recess,” he said. “And they asked his teacher, 'Can he stay for a little while?' And she said, 'For a little while.'”

That little while became the rest of his life: 16 years.

The students named him after where they found him, Room 8, but he also was actual roommate for them – a very popular one. During his time at the school, Room 8 received more than 10,000 pieces of mail from all over the country. He became the beloved cat that “had a adopted a school."

When Room 8 passed away in the late '60s, in addition to making inscriptions in that sidewalk, the school found other ways to commemorate him.

There are murals.

A freshly painted mural featuring Room 8 at the entrance of Elysian Heights Elementary School.
A freshly painted mural featuring Room 8 at the entrance of Elysian Heights Elementary School. KPCC/Lori Galarreta

Photographs.

A portrait of Room 8, outside of Room 8.
A portrait of Room 8, outside of Room 8. KPCC/Lori Galarreta

And even press clippings.

Press Clippings and a painting of Room 8 line the halls at Elysian Heights Elementary School.
Press Clippings and a painting of Room 8 line the halls at Elysian Heights Elementary School. KPCC/Lori Galarreta

In some ways, Room 8 is this school's spirit animal, and Koudanaris says the love of cats has been an important part of L.A.'s soul.

"Ten thousand fan letters throughout your life and 16 years of love and devotion in a school. I would say that counts as a really important cat."

Below are some of L.A.'s other standout felines:

1. Pepper, the first showbiz cat

"Pepper changed everything in Hollywood, because the perception was that cats can't act. Cats are useless on set. Pepper not only proved that cats could act, Pepper got the first starring role ever in a film for a cat."

The film was 1965's "That Darn Cat!"

2. Orangey, the cat from "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

"Five hundred movie and TV roles ... back in the '50s they had an award called the PATSY awards, it was like the Oscars for animals. Orangey was the first cat to ever win a PATSY award. Not only that, a decade later, Orangey won a second award for 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and became the only cat ever to win two of these awards."

For more information on the CatCon convention and Paul Koudanaris’ history chat about cats, click here. For the full interview segment, click the blue play button above.

Interview answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

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